Darlington’s Rockliffe Hall five star resort has the perfect recipe for a romantic weekend retreat
- Credit: Archant
When work rolls around on a Monday morning and in a hazy shock I press the alarm’s snooze button, more often than not I lament what became of a weekend which passed by all too quickly with nothing to show.
But Monday morning following a weekend jam-packed with the good life at Rockliffe Hall is a different story altogether.
Just a couple of days at the County Durham romantic retreat left my batteries fully recharged, as if I’d reaped the benefits of a week-long holiday.
The resort is set in 500 acres of gorgeous countryside just outside the northern town Darlington and has everything you need to help you unwind to the full - fine food, fun golf and a blissfully relaxing spa.
And the beauty is that it’s just over a couple of hours from Kings Cross by train, so much less hassle than going on a plane abroad, and cheaper - especially when you book online in advance with RedSpottedhanky.
From Darlington it’s a 10-minute drive before the taxi pulls in down Rockliffe Hall’s grand tree-lined drive to reach the 18th Century stately home, where we receive a warm welcome from the multitudes of staff who seem to be employed on the basis of their friendliness and enthusiasm.
The hotel is split up into three wings – one side houses the spa, the renovated old house takes up the other, and in the centre there’s a connecting corridor where our impressively huge Maple suite bedroom lay.
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The luxurious room is really as big as a flat, with a bed so comfy you’ll sleep like a baby, and a very nice touch is the TV built into the bathroom wall to watch while in the bath.
We head over to the regal cocktail bar just before dinner, to sip on Mohitos and soak up the atmosphere, cocooned by its darkly wallpapered walls which frame a beautiful view out onto the grounds through latticed windows.
It’s just one of the rooms revamped five years ago in the building which became derelict after housing a hospital in the 50s.
The hotel boasts three restaurants, one at the golf club, a Brasserie above the spa, then the most classy of all is the Orangerie, set in a conservatory next to the bar.
With a glass wall looking out over the hotel’s grounds, and a glass ceiling giving a view of the house’s old walls the restaurant is spacious and buzzing, and lends a beautiful backdrop to a romantic dinner.
The beef carpaccio starter melts in my mouth, the Lobster Thermidor main is spot on, as is the refreshing mango parfait desert, so much so that we decide to dine here the following night too.
The next morning having indulged in too much Rosé wine, I wasn’t raring to go at the thought of my first ever golf lesson.
I’ve never really seen the point of golf before, apart from it being a catalyst for a long walk out in the fresh air.
I was kitted out with a very girly set of shocking pink-trim clubs at the clubhouse, which we strapped onto the back of the electric trolley and zoomed down to the driving range for a lesson with pro Martyn Stubbings.
His passion for his sport soon rubbed off.
The idea apparently is to hit the ball as straight as you can, and Martyn talked me through the dynamics of getting your feet in the right position, and keeping your eye on the ball to make sure you hit it at the right angle with the club as you swing through.
After a few attempts I was hitting some balls which may well have only gone a few yards, but the fact they were going anywhere felt like a real achievement.
Martyn explained how the game is really quite mathematical, as with nine clubs in the bag there are plenty of factors to take into consideration in choosing which to use, like the ground conditions and distance to the hole, as some clubs hit the ball further but require more skill to use.
Martyn’s as great talking you through the basics as identifying problems of more established golfers like my boyfriend Olivier, who’s felt frustrated his shots have been going askew lately.
Within no time Martyn identified his swing was slightly off angle - something he demonstrated by videoing him on an iPad and playing back after drawing lines on the screen - and within minutes the problem that had been bugging Olivier for ages was sorted.
Rockliffe’s world class course costs just a fraction of the green fees charged by similar venues on the outskirts of London, and I’d have loved to walk around hitting a few balls.
But according to Olivier this would have been quite unethical at my stage of competence.
At breakfast the next morning I understood what he meant, as we spotted a pair of golfers hit their shot into the woods, creating a backlog as others came along wanting to play the same hole and having to wait as they hunted down their balls.
I had to be content with the range, which in fact is really good fun as you can practice as many shots as you please to your heart’s content, testing out the different clubs.
Golf is surprisingly quite exhausting when you play a few hundred shots in succession, so I was happy when it was time to head to the spa for my intriguing-sounding Tibetan sound massage.
I started to get a bit concerned when my therapist warned me an open mind was necessary for it, but halfway through whilst laying on my stomach, unawares three vibrating bowls had been placed along my spine, I realised what she meant.
I nearly jumped out of my skin as she struck them one by one, the loud reverberations seeming to go right through every cell of my body.
It was quite a pleasant sensation if rather unusual.
She told me afterwards it would regenerate every cell in my body, and certainly after the marathon hour and a half all over body and scalp massage, I felt amazingly relaxed, if not slightly comatose.
I just about made it to the vibrating beds in a special darkened room nearby, where I drifted in and out of consciousness for another half an hour with the sound of waves coming through headphones.
Meanwhile Olivier had a more conventional deep tissue massage to try and break down the painful knots in his back.
He said he felt like a new man, and it was true he looked as super-relaxed as I felt after our spa and golf stint. If you’re short on time but really need to rest to the max, Rockliffe Hall is just the ticket.